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MY DEAR MADAM,
Dec. - 1776. I HAVE often preached to others of the benefit of affliction; but my own path for many years has been so smooth, and my trials, though I have not been without trials, comparatively so light and few, that I have seemed to myself to speak by rote upon a subject of which I had not a proper feeling. Yet the many exercises of my poor afflicted people, and the sympathy the Lord has given me with them in their troubles, has made this a frequent and favourite topic of my ministry among them. The advantages of afilictions, when the Lord is pleased to employ them for the good of his people, are many and great. Permit me to mention à few of them; and the Lord grant, that we may all find those blessed ends answered to ourselves, by the trials he is pleased to appoint us.
Aflictions quicken us to prayer. It is a pity it should be so; but experience testifies, that a long course of ease and prosperity, without painful changes, has an unhappy tendency to make us cold and formal in our secret worship; but troubles rouse our spirits, and constrain us to call upon the Lord in good earnest, when we feel a need of that help which we only can have from him.
They are useful, and in a degree necessary, to keep alive in us a conviction of the vanity and unsatisfying nature of the present world, and all its enjoyments; to remind us that this is not our rest, and to call our thoughts upwards, where our true treasure is, and where our conversation ought to be. When things go on much to our wish, our
hearts are too prone to say, “ It is good to be here." It is probable, that had Moses, when he came to invite Israel to Canaan, found them in prosperity, as in the days of Joseph, they would have been very unwilling to remove; but the afflictions they were previously brought into made his message welcome. Thus the Lord, by pain, sickness, and disappointments, by breaking our cisterns, and withering our gourds, weakens our attachment to this world, and makes the thought of quitting it more familiar and more desirable.
A child of God cannot but greatly desire a more enlarged and experimental acquaintance with his holy word; and this attainment is greatly promoted by our trials. The far greater part of the promises in scripture are made and suited to a state of afiliction; and though we may believe they are true, we cannot so well know their sweetness, power, and suitableness, unless we ourselves are in a state to which they refer. The Lord says, “ Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver." Now, till the day of trouble comes, such a promise is like a city of refuge to an Israelite, who, not having slain a man, was in no danger of the avenger of blood. He had a privilege near him, of which he knew not the use and value, because he was not in the case for which it was provided. But some can say, I not only believe this promise upon the authority of the speaker, but I can set my seal to it; I have been in trouble, I took this course for relief, and I was not disappointed. The Lord verily heard and delivered me. Thus afflictions likewise give occasion of our knowing and noticing more of the Lord's wisdom, power, and goodness, in supporting and relieving, than we should otherwise have known. I have not time to take another sheet, must
therefore contract my homily. Afflictions, evi- ,
I am, &c.
MY DEAR MADAM,
August - 1778. Your obliging favour of the 22d from B which I received last night, demands an immediate acknowledgement. Many things which would have offered by way of answer, must, for the present, be postponed; for the same post brought an information which turns my thoughts to one subject. What shall I say! Topics of consolation are at hand in abundance; they are familiar to your mind; and was I to fill the sheet with them, I could suggest nothing but what you already know. Then are they consolatory indeed, when the Lord himself is pleased to apply them to the heart. This he has promised, and therefore we are encouraged to expect it. This is my prayer for you; I sincerely sympathise with you: I cannot comfort you; but he can, and I trust he will. How impertinent would it be to advise you to forget or suspend the feelings which such a stroke must excite! who can help feeling! nor is sensibility in itself sinful. Christian resignation is very different from that stoical stubbornness, which is most easily practised by those unamiable characters, whose regards centre wholly in self: nor could we, in a proper manner, exercise submission to the will of God under our trials, if we did not feel them. He who knows our frame, is pleased to allow that afflictions for the present are not joyous, but grievous. But to them that fear him, he is near at hand, to support their spirits, to moderate their grief, and in the issue to sanctify it; so that they shall come out of the furnace refined, more humble, and more spiritual. There
is however a part assigned us; we are to pray for the help in need; and we are not wilfully to give way to the impression of overwhelming sorrow.
We are to endeavour to turn our thoughts to such considerations as are suited to alleviate it; our deserts as sinners, the many mercies we are still indulged with, the still greater afflictions which many of our fellow-creatures endure, and, above all, the sufferings of Jesus, that man of sorrows, who made himself intimately acquainted with grief for our sakes.
When the will of the Lord is manifested to us by the event, we are to look to him for
and strength, and be still to know that he is God, that he has a right to dispose of us and ours as he pleases, and that in the exercise of this right he is most certainly good and wise. We often complain of losses; but this expression is rather improper. Strictly speaking, we can lose nothing, because we have no real property in any thing. Our earthly comforts are lent us; and when recalled, we ought to return, and resign them with thankfulness to him who has let them remain so long in our hands. But, as I said above, I do not mean to enlarge in this strain : I hope the Lord, the only Comforter, will bring such thoughts with warmth and efficacy upon your mind. Your wound while fresh, is painful; but faith, prayer, and time, will I trust, gradually render it tolerable. There is something fascinating in grief; painful as it is, we are prone to indulge it, and to brood over the thoughts and circumstances which are suited (like fuel to fire) to heighten and prolong it. When the Lord afflicts, it is his design that we should grieve: but in this, as in all other things, there is a certain moderation which becomes a christian, and which only grace can teach ; and grace teaches us not by books or by